I have been having hard time writing. The scale of massacre, the increasingly accelerating brutality of the regime, and the confusion and missteps on the side of “organized” opposition has made it very hard to follow without being angry and confused, .
The outpouring of sentiments after the tragic death of Anthony Shadid tells as much about our own need for balanced and intelligent reporting on Syria as it tells about the extraordinary character of the man whose loss we bemoan.
In the meantime, many good articles have come out recently. Jadaliyya continues to emerge as a powerhouse of thoughtful in-depth commentaries and articles on Syria. The international community continues to work very hard into convincing itself that it should not interfere in Syria. And Syrians continue to be murdered by a brutal regime. Questions about the future of Syria and the region in case the brutal regime succeeded in silencing the revolution are starting to circulate, as the regime increasingly deploys its sectarian strategy in search for survival even if it has to rule over heaps of dead Syrian children, women, and men.
The regime’s constitution “tailored” for Bashar al-Assad is another part of the play. The retention of articles pertinent to the religion of the state and president are not meant to assuage the protesters, who are hell-bent of removing the mafia gang and its boy-king don. However, one can hardly pas it without observing the short-lived righteous indignation among regime supporters as reflected in some of the emails received by Joshua Landis [here], especially those that went on incredible mental and moral acrobatic hoops in support of the “reform accomplishments” of Bashar Al-Assad
Another friends responds:[From Syria Comment]
I am surprised you are not acknowledging and celebrating these two accomplishments, and are instead nitpicking on the mechanism of how a president is nominated…. Every country has specific rules. Look at the electoral college in the US…..”
The constitution fiasco is both a distraction and a new link in the chain of cynical insults to Syrians the Assad mafia has been subjecting the country to over 40 years. I have said a while back that Bashar will be sure to empty any new constitution of real reform and to ensure that it is customized for him. For months, many regime friendly comentators went into discussing how “a strong” prime minister will emerge as a balance to the “presidency”. Even now, a cynical comment on SC boasts of the emergence of 6 political parties in Syria while ignoring that the fraud constitution makes these parties ineffective, useless, and mere dressing for continuing totalitarian state with unquestionable authority to the presidents, who presumably will be a long line of Assads. On facebook, and in other platforms, the seculars in the opposition, with few exception, went busy, also for a short time, arguing the contentious point of selecting the president-nominee while ignoring the most important parts of any constitution, “separation of powers”, which is completely absent. The president is the source of all powers. He can not be held accountable in front of the Parliament. The executive branch is a single person, who at the same time is the highest judicial authority. The parliament is a mere figurehead albeit with little or no chance of any real challenge to the Baath/Assad domination (Note/Q: anyone knows if the Baath party or any of its dog-tails in the national progressive front have submitted applications for recognition yet?). I am curious about some of those who preached Bashar Al-Assad the reformist and promised a strong prime minister years ago, which, given their absent if not obfuscating position, seems to indicate that their stance then, is as it is now aimed at the retention of the tyrant Assad at all costs. Their failure to voice any meaningful response to the regime’s middle finger strategy only shows them as nothing more than cult members in the Assad cult.
Then comes another odd question, summarized again on Syria Comment [here] about the leadership of next Syria and whether such will emerge from FSA or SNC. The reason I find this question as being odd is that it came at the heels of the post by Idaf [here], who argued that the revolution is neither SNC nor FSA and that it is organic and growing. Idaf’s points make such question of leadership mute at best, and renders SNC and other visible group as mere transient external connections and not the real thing. Idaf’s post is receiving wide attention, especially among activists in exile but who are well connected to secular activists on the ground in the inside. It has been translated to Arabic, and made it through several FB pages. They found in it a validation of their role in the revolution and of their justifiable concerns about what seems to be a strong arm tactics by some battalions of the FSA and a justification of their earlier fears, abandoned only for a short time, of the militarization of the revolution.
This is a critical issue. In the aftermath of the regime’s brutal massacres in Homs, Hama, Idlib and its apparent success in punishing hot-spots of civil protest, especially those where FSA had established presence, many now question whether FSA is really successful in protecting civilians. A legitimate question that is being amplified by the emergence of “power struggle” for claiming leadership of the military wing of the revolution, and by the publicity of the yet to be proven claims that “Al Qaida in Iraq” has already infiltrated some of the FSA battalions and initiated some actions on the ground in Syria. The increasingly sectarian face of the regime’s action in Homs is also a source of fear among activists. However, an activist, with strong connections to the ground told me when we were discussing how the FSA has not been able to prevent the onslaught:
Everyday there are operations that are inflicting heavy losses on the regime’s paramilitary. These operations are not publicized by the regime for obvious reason and not publicized by the FSA so that people like you (he meant me OTW in real personality) don’t go shouting that FSA is conducting “offensive” operations, which has been declared a taboo by activists who want to guard the non-violent element of the revolution.
The chains of bifurcations when discussing the Syrian revolution make focusing very hard, especially when with respect to sectarian incidents. An activist hailing from a minority sect sat me down for a long conversation about this issue. The activist told me
“Look at all the video clips that supposedly are being sold by members of the Shabeeha and regime’s forces in which obvious severe abuses were committed by men with very clear coastal mountain accent. Only a naïve person would think that such tapes can be sold without the person being easily identified and punished as happened to the brave engineer who exposed the post-speech rally for what it was. It is a regime’s strategy to show and emphasize that the abusers are all from one sect. And the regime is solely responsible for the initial leaking of these clips. It aims to accelerate and intensify instinctive sectarian responses from the widest possible segment of the opposition, preferably at the street level and on social media and in a response to the response, heighten the fear among the minorities and intensify their belief that, having seen the obscene sectarian hatred against them, they will be massacred en-mass upon the fall of the regime. The regime will argue that that the abuse intentionally publicized incidents are only isolated incidents and that there is a sectarian undertone to everything the revolution does. An added bonus is the manipulation of the “guilt-by association” fears that the regime wants to encourage among conscientious members of the minorities relying on the fact that while they represent the wide majority of these groups, fear of mass retribution will trump disgust at these actions especially when some in the opposition start shouting “silence equals complicity” and call on various groups to declare their distance from the regime loudly even at risk of severe punishment from the regime .
The activist also told me of yet one more tactic used by the regime to increase sectarian tension and accelerate sectarian war. This tactic has been used on many activists, especially those with religious leaning, and it goes as follows. During interrogation, the worst torture, including verbal torture is intentionally applied by soldiers who belong to minorities. Local dialect is heavily overemphasized. But at some point through the detention, the activist is made to have a calm session with a “sunni” high ranking officer, who would then complain to the activists that “as sunni his own hands are tied” and that alawite are in full control of the situation and there is nothing that can be done now about them short of an all out sectarian civil war, which he (the officer) tries to prevent, but thinks is coming because of these “sect scums” who are even tying the hands of the “good” president, who is more “sunni” than anything else.
I find it nearly impossible for an intelligence officer to say such things if not given a green light based on a planned manipulative strategy to do so. Another activist who has worked on the ground until a couple of months ago confirmed elements of both Idaf and hazrid posts and affirmed the role of women activists in the revolution, particularly in providing relief and support to the families of the victims of the regime be them martyrs or hostages-detainees. The activist, also hailing from a minority group, told me that in many a neighborhood, especially those with conservative leaning populations, only women can provide effective support and comfort to widows and their families. Grass-root support networks are flourishing in some areas, through which activists from all ideological shades work hand in hand to deliver relief and comfort. However, and as hazrid mentioned, the MBs, who have little or no real connection to these largely sufi areas, have been using these mostly secular networks to gain entrance, then, and through manipulative language attempt to gain party loyalty to enhance their ground presence in anticipation of post-revolution politics. In other word, they are opportunistically gaining footing. This is also consistent with what I heard from members of the SNC who complained about the insistence of the MBs to maintain control of the SNC led relief operations and their tactics of distributing the relief in their own name whilst it should be distributed in the name of the diverse opposition.
On the Eve of the UN vote, I met an old friend of my parents who is visiting is son, now a dear friend of mine. He knew me when I was a child, but was later transferred with his family to another town before being forced into an early retirement after having been deemed not loyal enough to Hafez and his Brother. I came in to greet him, he held my hand with a strong confident handshake and with his left, he patted the seat next to him signaling for me to sit down. I did, and we started talking.
The UN vote had just been announced and like most of us in this “revolutionary hang out”, he was elated with the results. But I sensed that his response was a bit more complex than the moral validation most of us felt then. And it was. His first assessment was that Russia and China have literally “screwed up” their prestige. “Two super powers, who usually enjoy the support of almost every single developing country in the UN could only muster the votes of only 12 countries, most of which are either satellite states, despotic regimes, or heading backward in that direction”. He reiterated: from day one of the Security Council fiasco, it was known that the Chinese are taking a stand half principled and half motivated by their interest not in the Syrian regime, but mostly in Iran. The Russians , on the other hand were dealing and wheeling. It was like they were in the bazaar, where Syria was only their “causes belli” for dumping off many other bargain items and extracting every single possible concession from many countries whose interest in the primary matter was not that high to bargain on such strategic issues only to get a decision that they themselves were not ready to take. China would have abstained had it not been for Russia’s veto. But now, they UN GA vote has dealt their prestige a great blow, morally and politically. We agreed that the veto was anything but a victory for Russian Diplomacy, to the contrary, it was an abysmal failure and a signal that the Soviet empire is finally over.
We then talked about middle class and about how both Assads decimated the middle class and how Bashar’s economic reforms were designed only to enrich the Mafia gang leaving the middle class with no prospect for survival and the poor with no prospect for making it upward through education, which according to him, was what took him and his wife as well as my parents from being on the edge of rural poverty to the ranks of reasonably secure middle class” back in the fifties of the past century. He pointed that even Lenin, cognizant of economic and intellectual weight of the middle class, had insisted before Russian revolution turned totalitarian on including the small bourgeois in the revolution’s ranks as opposed to his adversaries who wanted to cleanse the nascent state of what they thought as being a class with no loyalty.
He said, referring to the Assads: they were mafia, they are mafia, and they will remain so. They can not and will not reform themselves, let alone the layers of corruption through which they bought or forced loyalty. It has been 40 years since a real officer has made it above Brigadier General, or a single real thinker or leader made it into the upper echelon of the bureaucracy machine. Ignorance and mediocrity are their main friends, whether it is on their side or on the side of their opponents, and the knowledge and competence are their enemies.
His conclusion was interesting: all we need is to achieve a 51% ratio of enlightened citizenry. It doesn’t matter whether they are religious or not, it only matters that they are logical and secular. In Iran, we know that they are not there yet, as indicated by the inability to sustain the green revolution , In Syria, we have no real clue yet whether we have that since the regime has been successful first in forcing the armed option and seems to be heading towards success in forcing a sectarian civil war. I don’t think we have 51% yet, but we’ll never know until the regime falls, which is only a matter of time and blood.
A friend, who just arrived from Aleppo describes a ghost town. Business is almost non existent. Shabeeha have full control of fuel supplies once they arrive at the pump. While parked in the 2 hours long line, it is common for a shabbeeh to knock on the window asking if you want gasoline, which then is sold at incredibly high price. Price of food has more than doubled and even upper middle class families who now survive on their saving have to think whether to have fried eggs for lunch. The city, along with Damascus are increasingly restless, despite of the regime’s attempt to “reward” Aleppo for the apparent loyalty with the rewards ending squarely in the pockets of the greedy shabeeha.
After i finished the post, and went on to view twitter, i was in for a surprise, a blog called The Sweet Maker’s Wife, written by Evelyn Aissa a young Syrian Woman who holds a Masters in International Law. The current post on the blog is titled Deconstructing the Narrative on The Syrian Revolution (Jan 26, 2012). It is a more than worth reading for the excellent brief description of the various components of the opposition, if not for the plenty of other well presented information.